Road to Ladakh

2003 Fiction

Behind the Scenes | a disaster story

The disaster documentary of how this film almost never got made.

Irrfan Khan

Long before Irrfan was a international star, he showed up in Ladakh despite a broken-arm, endured sleeping in tents that got flooded, severe altitude sickness but stayed the course because he had made a commitment to a first-time film maker. A role for which he took no payment.

Irrfan is today possibly the most respected Indian actor of his generation with memorable turns in THE LUNCHBOX, THE NAMESAKE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, SPIDER MAN, LIFE OF PI, THE WARRIOR, PAAN SINGH TOMAR and MAQBOOL.

Irrfan has won the Screen Actors Guild Award, National Film Award for Best Actor and one of India’s highest civilian honors, the Padma Shri.

Cast

Shafiq
Irrfan Khan
Sharon
Koel Puri
John Chako
Milan Moudgill
Wanchuk
Tenzig Namgyal
Chako’s Driver
Ashvin Kumar

Crew

Writer / Director
Ashvin Kumar
Director of Photography
Markus Huersch
Sound Recordist
Haresh Patel
Production Design
Ayesha Punvani
Music
Susmit Sen
Focus Puller
Emmanuel Suys
Clapper Loader
Katinka Kocher
1st Assistant Director
Zoe Fryer
Make-up
Hanna Eccelston
Sound Design
Sridhar

Story

Having concluded that Shafiq is a drug smuggler, Sharon throws herself into a road journey that is as much an adventure as it is an expression of loneliness and desperation. So intoxicated is she by the danger Shafiq represents, that when an Indian army officer John Chacko (Milan Moudgill) interrogates her about his identity, she thinks nothing of providing a fictitious alibi by claiming Shafiq to be her boyfriend.

The tension between a sexually inexperienced Shafiq and giddy Sharon mounts as they fall in love. But their tryst is shadowed by the growing menace of the army and John Chacko who, unsatisfied by the alibi provided by Sharon pursues the couple relentlessly.

Sharon’s self- preservation struggles with her feelings for Shafiq. She must choose: join him on his mission or leave, knowing that he will surely be killed if she abandons him.

It never rains

With the rapid onset of the monsoons it was imperative that shooting finished in a challenging sixteen-day schedule.

A convoy of fifteen-vehicles and two-trucks carting generators, camping gear, a twenty-foot crane and a tent got past the Rohtang Pass and into Spiti Valley, where it never rains… or so they say.

Disaster

Disaster struck on the descent from the fifteen thousand foot Kunzum pass. In an area where no one had seen rain for a decade, it started raining. The road simply melted away. The shoot came to a standstill. Tents flooded over-night as the mercury plummeted. Sleeping bags wouldn’t dry in the freezing cold and fever struck the camp.

Six out of sixteen days had been lost, with only one scene in the can. But that wasn’t all…

Crisis

On the sixth day, the line-producer vanished with all the production money. There was chaos till Milan Moudgill, the actor who plays John Chako, stepped in and kept the production afloat with loans from local shopkeepers.

But crises came thick and fast.

Due to the landslides, fuel-supplies to the entire area were cut off which led to rationing, that threatened to bring the shoot to yet another standstill. Just as that was resolved, one of the drivers got intoxicated and smashed the windscreen of the jeep that Irfan drives in the film.

Finally – the film stock ran out and the last few scenes of the film were shot on a 1:1 ratio.

Phew!

The directing-department wrestled with cutting scenes to fit a shorter schedule while trying to keep the story coherent. The camera-crew overcame the challenge of shooting a road-movie without a camera car by using bicycle-tire tubes as a bungee that would cut the hard-bumps without making the audience sick. The chase was shot at a slower shutter-speed to give a sense of acceleration, to compensate for the lack of real stunt-drivers.

Despite the rain, punishing schedule, disappearing line-producer, no money, cut-off fuel supplies, inebriated drivers and dwindling film-stock the film was completed by sheer doggedness, by a group of people from all over the world, who had been thrown together for the first time, a fortnight ago.

Focus Puller Emmanuel Suys (Belgium), Director of Photography Markus Huersch and Clapper Loader Katinka Kocher (Switzerland).